Thursday, August 20, 2009

We get ready to return "home" to the Philippines

We are less than 24 hours from returning to our new “home” in the Philippines. First of all, we want to thank you for the hundreds of emails we have received offering prayers and condolences to Marcia and her family in regards to the death of her brother Mike. Due to the bereavement policy of Northwest Airlines (now Delta) we were able to rearrange our flights and attend Mike’s funeral and spend much appreciated time with the family. We will be arriving on Friday night after a 12-hour flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo, a two-hour layover, and a four-hour flight to Manila. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to join Mike’s family in remembering Mike, who passed away at the age of 66 after a decades-long fight against Multiple Sclerosis. His courageous battle reminds us of the unbelievable will to live that some possess, including the POWs of the Japanese whom we have come to know over the years.

Many people have asked us in the past eight weeks: “Have you noticed any changes in the United States in the time you were gone?” The answer is, not really. It is still a great country and we’re proud to be Americans. However, we are now more conscious of certain things that we just took for granted in the past, but having been immersed in a new culture for close to a year, we do see some things a little differently. Face it, the United States and the Philippines are worlds apart in many ways, and similar in many others. The following observations are just that, observations. They are not judgments and we are not trying to offend anyone. Who knows, maybe we’re wrong.

There’s just so much more room in the cities that we’ve been in America compared to the Philippines. Minneapolis is loaded with lakes and parks, lots of grass and lots of trees. The parks we see in Manila are smaller and much more crowded, sometimes all the more striking for having to be squeezed into an unexpected spot in the city.

People in the States are more in a hurry in general, at least in the Upper Midwest. Things start on time and people often set their clocks ahead to avoid being late. In contrast, we are learning patience in the Philippines. We often hear the words, “Filipino time.” We recall one time where we boarded a tour bus at the given departure time only to wait for over an hour until the others finally trickled on. It’s just a more laid-back attitude generally, from which many Americans could benefit.

On the other hand, drivers in the Philippines seem to change personalities behind the steering wheel. Being a pedestrian in Manila is taking your life into your own hands. Even though many crosswalks in Makati – the financial district of Metro Manila – have pedestrian Walk and Don’t Walk lights, you must still be on your guard as virtually no one in a motor vehicle can be trusted to yield the right of way. In Minneapolis, drivers come to a halt when you approach a crosswalk. They usually even wave as you cross in front of them. The redeeming factor in Manila is that the traffic is usually going so slowly that you can cross the streets safely as you weave in and out through cars that are temporarily stopped.

Most Filipinos are short and slim. Occasionally you see children that are obviously overweight, but it not the norm, and very unusual away from the big city. Here in the United States, obesity is a – pardon the pun – growing problem. Maybe we are just more conscious of it now, we aren’t sure. But we were sadly astonished by the number of extremely overweight adults we saw on this trip. The worst place was Steve’s home area of northern Minnesota. We’re not talking about people who are merely 30 or 50 pounds overweight, but people who are literally hundreds of pounds overweight. It seemed that almost every woman we saw was either grossly fat or a smoker, and often both. (Steve’s mom is neither, by the way.) Maybe the long winters and high unemployment are contributing factors, but whatever the causes, health problems are waiting to happen.

Of course, the food we were offered by our generous hosts was nothing like the food to which we had become accustomed in the Philippines. The obvious example is the Filipino staple of rice. Steve told Marcia before the trip that he doubted that anyone would serve us rice at a meal – the exception being a little rice in a dish called “sarma,” or “pig-in-the-blanket,” which contains a modicum of rice, and he was right until this past Sunday. Most people that we know in the Philippines eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It just isn’t a meal without it. Of course we also were served much less fish than we were used to, as expected, although we had salmon several times and it was wonderful. And we were never served fish with the heads still attached and the eyes staring at us, which is the norm for Filipinos.

We have had a very good time while in Minnesota and Michigan, and are already talking about plans for next year. There were friends we were unable to see and places we did not visit in spite of the many weeks we spent here, so they are on the list for next trip. It will feel good to feel settled and see an end to living from suitcases for awhile.

We have been assured that our solar system is back in working order, and that the genset’s battery has been replaced by a maintenance-free one, so we’re confident that we will have electricity upon our return. And we certainly look forward to our “no hot water” shower. Not!

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